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Nat Neurosci. 1998 Nov;1(7):557-62.

The long internal loop of the alpha 3 subunit targets nAChRs to subdomains within individual synapses on neurons in vivo.

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Department of Neuroscience, Tufts University, School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts 02111, USA.


Different types of neurotransmitter receptors coexist within single neurons and must be targeted to discrete synaptic regions for proper function. In chick ciliary ganglion neurons, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) containing alpha 3 and alpha 5 subunits are concentrated in the postsynaptic membrane, whereas alpha-bungarotoxin receptors composed of alpha 7 subunits are localized perisynaptically and excluded from the synapse. Using retroviral vector-mediated gene transfer in vivo, we show that the long cytoplasmic loop of alpha 3 targets chimeric alpha 7 subunits to the synapse and reduces endogenous nAChR surface levels, whereas the alpha 5 loop does neither. These results show that a particular domain of one subunit targets specific receptor subtypes to the interneuronal synapse in vivo. Moreover, our findings suggest a difference in the mechanisms that govern assembly of interneuronal synapses as compared to the neuromuscular junction in vertebrates.

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